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Kormac: “The has a certain vision, it’s supposed to sound almost live”

DJ Kormac’s new album ‘Equivalent Exchange’ is an unusual production: a mix of classical music and beats, which fuses a plethora of local pop talent with a dramatic orchestral sound and deeply layered style changes.

It’s the beautiful product of training in texture and subtlety, combined with his work on developing lively in-person shows, and showcasing a sound that is a clear progression on his previous work, and of undeniably inventive quality.

“This record started as a live show for the closing of the St Patrick’s Festival in 2018, before which I trained in Bulgaria to write for orchestra’s,” Kormac says of his new LP. “I’ve been writing for TV since, things like ‘Resurrection’ on Disney Plus, so there’s been a lot going on. With so many moving parts to record, not least the orchestra and brass, it took some time to produce.”

“People know me as a DJ, but I’ve brought a lot of live musicians into club settings and onto my records,” he adds. “I like to collaborate, and I’m no stranger to live instruments. This seemed like another challenge, a way of writing new material that people might connect with emotionally. It was written for a live show and has a certain vision.” 

“The record is supposed to sound almost live. I wanted to produce the most aggressive, dramatic intro I could, with all the orchestra. I wanted to have a semi-electronic drop, and then to bring in a rapper,” he says of the opening track with local star Jafaris. “I wanted something really arresting and abrasive.”

“Everyone on the record I’m a huge fan of,” he says of collaborations that also include Loah and MayKay. “They all do their own thing that I’m not part of, and bring their experience to it. I find it interesting to harness and investigate what other people do in their fields and how we can work together, to make something different and new. It’s very much a suite of music, something that was edited down from an hour and a half.”

Mustafa Khetty celebrates Michael Collins with themed new record

Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Dublin, history scholar and musician Mustafa Khetty feels Michael Collins in his very soul. So much so that his new record, ‘Torn In Love, Torn Apart’, is built entirely around Collins’ romantic world.

His love of the independence-era hero dates right back to his school days. “I was taught by an amazing history teacher, Michael Halliday whose description of the personalities who made history were far more interesting than facts and narrative,” Khetty recalls. 

“Michael Collins was an enigma. His daring, mischief, wit and stealth were the stuff of movies. He was Dennis the Menace, James Bond and Houdini combined. I also liked the David and Goliath aspect of Michael Collins and his band of a few hundred merry men and women taking on a mighty empire.”

“About two years ago, Facebook highlighted the Michael Collins Society in Dublin and the Midlands, which rekindled my interest and research. Along the journey, it dawned on me to render the tragic romance of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan in music.” Kiernan, of course, was scheduled to be married to Collins before his death in 1922.

In particular, Khetty’s music is based on around 300 letters written between Kiernan and Collins, extrapolated and manipulated to put the story to music.

Lord Jane: “It was always intentional to step away from heavier music from our other bands to express a more soft and mature style of writing”

It’s not often I feature a band the day after the release of their debut single, but perhaps it should be. Lord Jane, from Belfast, have plenty of musical cred built up already, being something of a supergroup made up of members from a series of heavy bands located all over Ulster. They’ve been together in a development phase since 2022, but with debut single ‘I Did It To Myself’ seem to be laying down a marker when it comes to self-examination, riffs, and dark themes.

I caught up with the band on the day the single came out, to uncover a little of their backstory and what their hopes are for the growth of a side project that lives in the emo-rock world, stepping away from all their usual musical angles…

First of all, can you give me a little background on the band? How did you come to be?

The band first came about in a moment of madness, or perhaps boredom from Dylan and Sam. A duo that have played together for years, from the iconic North Coast. After a few jams it was quickly established as something with great potential and after a couple more weeks Carl joined on bass followed by Aidan with an additional guitar. This was the basis for it of course, and we had fun as an instrumental band but it was always going to need vocals in our heads. Luckily fate would be on our side, and Clodagh joined the band as our lead singer, which really solidified the sound. The band consists of members from all corners of Ulster and it feels like we have all found a place at our HQ in Belfast to make music together, fully express ourselves creatively and really find a passion for music again.

How do your various other outlets fit in with the new project?

The band is somewhat a supergroup of various other projects from around Ireland. Dylan from Wohn, Sam comes from Ferals, Carl from Mob Wife, Aidan from Big Daisy and finally Clodagh has her own solo outlet. All very experienced in their own ways, but a varied style of music across the board also – considering the styles of some of those bands, Lord Jane is a very different beast. It was always intentional to step away from heavier music from our other bands to express a more soft and mature style of writing.

Presumably you have more than one song ready to go. How did you go about picking a debut single?

We toyed with the idea of releasing a more ‘radio friendly’ song but it always had to be ‘I Did it to Myself’. It was probably the 2nd or 3rd song we wrote together, and the first time we played it together as a 5-some it just clicked. That thought of “you know this is actually not bad” really stuck, but more poignantly we knew we had something, the sound clicked in that moment. We have other songs that are more poppy, and even some that tail the other direction of experimentality, but this is the song that everyone needs to hear first in our opinion. A real statement of what the band does best, crying at a disco, dancing at a funeral.

There’s a real element of self examination in the single’s lyrics. Does it relate to a particular experience?

The great thing about being part of such a collaborative band is that we all inspire each other. So when it came to writing the lyrics of this song, it didn’t come from just one particular experience, but a collective 5-person voice. The funny thing is, before Clodagh came on board, the music that was already written was all assigned random names based on vibes. None of those titles have changed during the process, Clodagh just took the vibe and ran with it, producing introspective writing that’s relatable to a lot of different experiences.

The Unthanks: “We have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things”

The Unthanks are, by their own admission, a little on the dingy side. Known for bringing live audiences to tears with the depth of their beautiful folk pieces, the two Northumbrian sisters – who pair up to deliver winding and enthralling vocals – and their accompanying band explore the vaults of English folk, something they were born into.

“We’ve always been surrounded by songs and stories,” Rachel Unthank tells us. “They come back into your imagination, and a time comes where it’s the right time to sing it. For example, ‘Sorrows Away’, once we felt like it was the right time to sing this song, it made sense of our new album, as a song that gave us comfort and reminded us of singing with people. There are a few songs on the album that came from that idea.”

“The songs sometimes remind us of our past, like singing on a Northumbrian beach with 40 people on our singing weekends. We do find some tracks in the archives, too, that don’t have those kinds of memories. There’s a really strong musical and cultural identity in the North East of England, and there’s a very healthy selection of songs, tunes and dance traditions that were a big part of our upbringing.”

In fact, that distinctly local feel is part of what has delivered The Unthanks to an international audience: with their feet firmly on the ground they grew up on, they don’t feel in the least bit contrived.

“People do tap into the vernacular, in the North East, into hearing their own accents and their own stories being told,” Rach says. “We were brought up in the folk tradition and taught not to Americanise our accents. It makes sense to us to sound like we do.”

The new album, ‘Sorrows Way’, is a return to The Unthanks as an ensemble, a glance at their broadest and most considered style. “We consider this the first studio album in a while,” Rachel says. “We’ve done a lot of ‘diversion’ type albums, project albums, in between. Like the poems of Molly Drake, and Emily Bronte to music, unaccompanied tours, that kind of thing.”

“This is us as a band, and it’s not as directed, it doesn’t have a specific outcome. That means us finding songs and bringing them together, focusing on stuff we want to play [as opposed to a theme]. We were really drawn to songs that gave us comfort and joy, and sometimes that is a miserable song. For an Unthanks album, we do have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things, and we feel like this is a little bit more hopeful, with opportunities to sing along. In the context of our band, of course.”

Groundhopping: Ireland (v Belgium, Aviva Stadium)

Competition: International Friendly

Date: 23 March 2024

Result: Ireland 0 – 0 Belgium

Tickets:  About €30 for adults and €15 for kids when you break down the season ticket.

Attendance: 38,128

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: The first of what is likely to be two games in charge for John O’Shea (though on tonight’s evidence, there could be an argument for more), Ireland controlled this game against an admittedly weakened Belgium side captained by Youri Tielemens, who apparently captains Belgium exclusively when they come to Dublin.

With the impressive looking attacking trio of Ferguson, Ogbene and debutant Szmodics having lots of the play and Nathan Collins impressive at the back, there is the obvious spine of a team here ready to go, something that’s felt missing for a while. Szmodics on debut had a particularly good game, and while Ferguson is extremely highly regarded, it was his penalty being saved, as well as an Ogbene missed one-on-one in the opening minutes that probably cost a win against the world number four, who offered little. Unusually strong from Ireland.

The ground:  The Aviva up high on a March evening is absolutely baltic, with large chunks of the crowd retreating to under the stands until right before the whistle and as soon as the break came along. Good view though and the good has improved a bit, I think. We absolutely flew out of the stadium and back home today, which is unusual.

Extras: I left the programme as usual – I’ll save that for the bigger games. I’d like to see more places to buy stuff like shirts, but maybe I just need to look a little closer.

Assorted asides: The ‘duo’ ticket system the FAI are insisting on for home tickets at the moment is being widely criticised and with good reason: they’d have sold a lot more tickets to this game if it didn’t also require buying tickets for Tuesday night against Switzerland (which are now on sale individually a late notice – also not ideal), a far less easy to attend game if you live outside fo the Dublin area. Daft, with huge spaces in the stadium that could have been filled and created a better atmosphere.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 3. Home wins: 1 Draws: 1 Away wins: 1

Goals: 11. Home goals: 6. Away goals: 5. Goals per game: 3.66

VIEW ALL GROUNDHOPPING POSTS HERE.

Groundhopping: Loughgall (v Cliftonville, Lakeview Park)

Competition: Northern Irish Premier League

Date: 16 March 2024

Result: Loughgall 2 – 3 Cliftonville

Tickets:  £13 for adults

Attendance: circa 500

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: Conditions didn’t help with this, a scrappy contest played out on something of a bog, and made somewhat closer by a very average performance by the Cliftonville goalkeeper, who played a fairly major role in both the Loughgall goals. Both sides had several more decent chances in what could have been a goalfest, and ultimately the final minute or so – which saw a brief barrage on the Cliftonville goal after Loughgall got back within a goal – were the best part of the game.

There was something quite mellow about the whole thing, though – I didn’t ever feel that Loughgall really believed they could win the game, despite being well in it at times, and the Cliftonville fans on the way out sounded less than happy with their performance despite the three points. It was very watchable, but certainly not a great advert for the quality of the Northern Irish Premier.

The ground:  Lakeview Park doesn’t, at least from within the confine of the stands (and yes, I checked), have a view of Lough Gall, or any other lake, but what can you do. An unlikely spot for a top-tier football club, I went early enough to feel like the attendance might be in the two figures, but the ground – which will hold the population of Loughgall more than four times over – soon filled out, not least with two thirds of one side and one end’s worth of away fans, outnumbering the home support.

It’s a tiny but tidy little ground, with a small amount of seating and a handful of very windy terraces. A youth side welcoming the teams on is a nice touch. For this particular rainy March day, I did briefly think my trip up north might have been in vein, with the pitch a bog in some areas and probably not a million miles from seeing the game called off. Proper, old-school football; remarkable to think it’s at the level it is, really – I understand the club represents the smallest town in Europe to have a top tier club.

Extras: I didn’t find a programme, and while there are two food outlets – a coffee and snack stall and a cooked foot spot – I didn’t visit either as they were both cash only and I didn’t have any sterling with me. They did seem more than adequate for the number of people there.

Assorted asides: As someone commented on Twitter, what a superb Football Manager challenge this spot would be. I had a great walk around Loughgall Country Park for about an hour before kick off, and learnt that the town is where the Orange Order formed more than 200 years ago, which made me feel slightly nervous of my Irish reg plates. A friendly and enjoyable experience, though.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 2. Home wins: 1 Draws: 0 Away wins: 1

Goals: 11. Home goals: 6. Away goals: 5. Goals per game: 5.5

VIEW ALL GROUNDHOPPING POSTS HERE.

Groundhopping: Aston Villa (v Nottingham Forest, Villa Park)

Competition: English Premier League

Date: 24 February 2024

Result: Aston Villa 4 – 2 Nottingham Forest

Tickets:  £42 for adults, £15.50 concession.

Attendance: circa 42,000

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

The Game: My first game at Villa Park in what is arguably the best season in Aston Villa’s modern history (I’d certainly argue the best in the 00s), following my tradition of trying to make at least one a year. This was a fantastic game in parts. Villa are seriously weakened in defence (they finished this game with the fifth and sixth choice centre backs on the pitch), but so fiery going forward.

At the heart of that are the immensely effective Watkins, and Leon Bailey, who has gone from looking a bit of a flop briefly, to one of the outstanding attacking players in the league. The strings are pulled by Douglas Luiz, who is frankly one of the best players I’ve ever seen in claret and blue. An almost flawless first half saw Bailey shred Forest as Villa went into a 3-0 lead.

When it got back to 3-2, the Villa of a couple of years ago would have gone on to lose. Instead, they stabalised their position with a 4-2 win and continue to heap the pressure on Tottenham and Man United when it comes to Champions League places. The cheers around the ground when United’s loss to Fulham at home was announced was something else.

The ground:  Obviously as a Villa fan I love Villa Park, and it’s with some concern that I’ve watched the recent stuff around extension being cancelled (there are some rumours it might relate to a move to a more modern facility, which I don’t think many Villa fans would be in favour of, despite the current difficulty getting tickets).

I sat in the North Stand for the first time in years, right in the very back row, and to be honest it didn’t have the atmosphere I’ve got used to down there, so that was a bit of a let down, and I’ll be moving back to either the Holte to the Doug Ellis next time around given half the chance. Still such a pleasure to drop by, of course.

Extras: I love the old programmes around the place alongside the matchday ones at Villa Park. I found one from a game against Dynamo Bucharest in 1983, describing in details elements of the 1982 European Cup win I’d never heard about, which made for great pre-match reading. A Balti Pie seems to have become something else these days, which is a shame because of childhood memories from the Trinity. Still my favourite ground to go to anywhere, though.

Assorted asides: I went to this game feeling pretty terrible – still getting over a nasty dose of the flu, which meant it a tough task to climb the North Stand and also that I spent almost the whole day sat around in coffee shops writing and reading, rather than my usual exploration of Birmingham. I did find a little pin from my only ever Villa away game, though, vs Hamburg in 2008, so I have nice a little souvenir anyway.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 1. Home wins: 1 Draws: 0 Away wins: 0

Goals: 6. Home goals: 4. Away goals: 2. Goals per game: 6

VIEW ALL GROUNDHOPPING POSTS HERE.

Thought Brownie: “I plan to write at least four lines every day, for the rest of my days, dropping words like it’s hot”

Thought Brownie, a.k.a Hari Shenoy, is a naturalised Irishman from India, a man in his early 40s releasing what he himself describes as an unlikely rap album. It’s the consequence of some life changes: tackling autoimmune disease that came up during Covid, and finding the power of artistic persistance as he began writing four lines every day to create a larger whole, the product of which is the record ‘Man Of Subtance’.

Referencing everything from the history of his native India to the war in Ukraine to Studio Ghibli as influences, Thought Brownie’s diverse cultural explorations ooze out in his music, making for one of the more unusual, mesmerising and thought-provoking records I’ve heard covering music in Ireland, a startling display of imagination in the face of self doubt.

In what I believe is the first written interview with Thought Brownie about his album, he filled me on just what it’s all about, and how it came to be, asking the broader question: what do you want to do with the time you have left?

You have a background on my side of the music industry. What shifted you over to producing and releasing your own music?

I was a music journalist covering independent music, mainly rock and metal in India. I did that for five years from 2007 to 2012. It was a brilliant experience that gave me access to new artists and to learn why they did what they did. I enjoy writing in general and writing about music in particular.

In my 30s, I went all in on a corporate job. My life was all about running on the hedonic treadmill. I wanted early retirement, after which I said to myself that I will finally relax, resting on the laurels of jobs well done. That perpetual state of being in sprints caused stress, anxiety and burnout, because everything that gave me fulfilment was outside of me. I was chasing the approval of others to feel good about myself, prioritising elusive milestones over abundant moments and neglecting to stay in the present moment.

The pandemic didn’t help either. In January 2021, I got diagnosed with an autoimmune health condition that shifted my perspective. It made me aware of how nothing is promised. I know I can leave my life right now, and I must make sure I can live my life right now.

I felt like the best way I could come to terms with the physical, mental and emotional challenges I faced was to write my way out. What I wrote turned into verse and that gave me the idea to create something. It felt like the right answer to the question I keep asking myself each day – “Yo Hari, what will you do with the time you have left?”

Can you tell me a little of the story behind ‘Man Of Substance’?

The original name I wanted to assign for the album was “Cheaper than therapy”. Then I figured that having a nom de plume that sounds like “Pot Brownie” should give me licence to call it “Man of Substances”. I finally decided that “Man of Substance” sounded right to me in my head.

I began writing the album when Russia invaded Ukraine. I have been to Kyiv and loved the time I spent there. My Ukrainian friends made me feel welcome the way people from India make their international friends feel welcome. It hurt to see them hurting. War made me wonder why we, as a species, are so blatantly invested in acts of self-sabotage. Carl Sagan’s speech about the “Pale Blue Dot” felt more relevant than ever and I decided to adapt it into rap.

All other tracks began falling into place as I explored topics related to time, mental health, ambition, inner peace and growing up.

Before this, I was writing a musical on the history of India. I am so grateful and so inspired by what Lin Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton, that I decided to create an Indian version. What’s the worst that could have happened?

I was making progress there but I’ve since set that project aside for now. I need to understand my own story before I could do justice to telling the story of nearly 2 billion people.